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In the construction of trusts, it is the trustor's intent that controls and that to determine that intent the court looks to the language of the trust agreement. In that regard, the court's rules of construction with respect to testamentary instruments are well settled. The words of the instrument are to receive an interpretation which will give some effect to every expression, rather than an interpretation which will render any of the expressions inoperative. The will is to be construed according to the intentions of the testator, so far as is possible to ascertain them. Words used in the instrument are to be taken in their ordinary and grammatical sense unless a clear intention to use them in another sense can be ascertained. In cases of uncertainty arising upon the face of the will, the testator's intention is to be ascertained from the words of the instrument, taking into view the circumstances under which it was made, exclusive of his oral declarations.
In his will, the decedent intentionally disinherited his children and directed that his estate pass to his father and step-mother because he felt confident that they would use the property in the best interest of his children. During probate, the children sought summary judgment on the grounds that the decedent intended to establish a trust for their benefit. The district court ruled that a trust had been intended, and it appointed the children's choice to be personal representative. The step-mother appealed.
Did the language of the will suggest that the decedent intended the establishment of a trust for the children’s benefit?
The court reversed the district court’s judgment, holding that as a matter of law, the decedent did not intend to create a trust. After looking to the language of the will, the court applied the rule of construction that would render each word operative. The children did not meet the burden of proving that the decedent intended to establish a trust because he used the word "intentional" in regards to the decision to leave nothing to the children. Further, the decedent's wish that the funds be used for the benefit of the children was couched in precatory terms that imposed no legal obligation upon the step-mother.